The primary objective of the Information Technologies programme of the Fourth Framework Programme is to enhance industrial competitiveness in the EU. The Information Technologies programme and its precursor, the ESPRIT programme, have a long and successful tradition of encouraging different countries to cooperate in R&D in information technology. In the past this concerned in the first instance and nearly exclusively Member States of the EU and States which were associated to the programme. Neither the development of information technology (IT) nor its application into products, processes or services is limited to geographical regions. This is particularly true when IT is seen as the basic element for the information infrastructure which is the driving force to the emergence of the global information society. As technological development accelerates, competitive pressures increase and complexity and R&D costs grow, enterprises and organizations look more widely to find expertise, critical mass and markets they need. The establishment of new alliances with companies and research groups beyond the borders of the EU is an indispensable prerequisite for reaching the objectives of the IT programme in future. Within the 17 States contributing financially to the programme, the economic and social situation could be regarded to be fairly homogeneous and balanced. This is not the case in regard to various other parts of the globe. International cooperation within the IT programme has to respond to regional differences in setting appropriate priorities, objectives, mechanisms and timing. The following main objectives have been selected: - Non-European industrialized countries: The aim is to further the EU's interests by ensuring that the direction of the EU's industrial research is in tune with the potential international markets, to improve the competitiveness of Europe's industry, to optimize its efforts by seeking access to scientific and technological sources in these highly developed countries which conduct RTD similar or complementary to that conducted by the EU. Cooperation with industrialized non-European countries is in addition required for the implementation of very large research projects for which a purely European base would be too small and for research in the preparation of standards. - Developing countries: The aim of this activity is to enable the developing countries - whose level of development differs widely - to be associated with the generation of knowledge and innovative technologies needed to solve their specific problems and to reach a sustainable economic development. Developing countries have both a potential for large markets as well as a reservoir of people which will improve the expertise on how to develop, how to implement and how to exploit the technology. Some of these countries have already reached levels of growth, both of markets and of production, beyond the current rate of the Union. - Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) and the new independent States of the former Soviet Union (NIS): The aim is to help safeguard the scientific and technological potential of these countries, in order to redirect IT research towards social needs and to restore their production systems. These countries have had a long tradition of European educational and industrial development but have been heavily distorted by the political systems for many decades. Differences between various countries are substantial, in particular between the CEECs and the NIS, but all have a large potential for excellent researchers and institutions. IT research was mainly carried out within the military industrial environment in these countries. Its redirection into civil applicants is a goal for the EU as well as for the concerned countries. Individual exploitation of IT and communication technology was not on the agenda of the socialist societies, while in the West "information" advanced to the key factor for technological development. It is expected that Eastern markets - being now in a period of difficult and painful transitions - will catch up, thus providing opportunities and demand for cooperation with the West.